Three Wisconsin brothers served together on Navy ship

Amherst, WI

When their oldest brother, Fred, was drafted, the Luchts knew the second in line, Herb, wasn’t far behind. Robert, then age 17, the youngest of the Luchts, decided to enlist with them in the U.S. Navy.

“What the hell? I might as well go,” Robert said. “We signed in together. We went to basic together. In fact, we were together from the day we signed in until, well, until my tour was over.”

“We didn’t know where we were headed or what,” Herb said.

Even as boys, they had been close. In the service, they are believed to be the only set of three brothers serving on their ship at the same time. Given the option, they requested to stay together for their service.

Their ship was the USS Francis M. Robinson, an experimental destroyer escort equipped with sonar devices for tracking submarines, their port in Key West, Fla. They served together from 1952 to 1956, Fred and Herb as gunner mates, Robert as a gunner yeoman.

Though they’d spent most all their lives in Wisconsin and all three would return there, the Luchts were able to see many new sights while serving together.

They traveled from Key West, Fla., up and down the Atlantic Coast. They made stops in places such as Nova Scotia, the Bahamas and even Cuba.

In fact, the F.M. Robinson was in Cuba when Fidel Castro attempted his first overthrow of Batista in 1953. But the situation wasn't very worrisome for Americans, Fred said.

There, they also participated in wartime training exercises at Guantanamo Bay through simulated battle with bigger ships, such as battleship USS Wisconsin, Robert said. When they joined in 1952, the Korean War was close to being finished but was still unfolding, and preparedness was emphasized.

“They’d have a whole fleet of ships, destroyers, destroyer escorts, just like in battle,” Robert said. “Airplanes would come diving down, dragging a sleeve two feet in diameter, 10 or 15 feet long. We’d have shooting practice at the sleeve.

“There were three guns that would follow my direction. One time the captain hollered fire and I wasn’t ready to fire yet, and I wasn’t ready to fire yet, and the shots were 300 feet behind the airplane.”

He laughed. “You were supposed to have a direct hit.”

In his practice, Fred had the opposite experience: a too-close call.

“I was a pointer on a three-inch gun mount,” he said. “Shot the gun off, and I’d shot off 500 foot of cable at a sleeve from a plane. Kind of scared the pilot on that.”

Herb and Robert also met with an incident when firing at target planes.

“We had a misfire,” Herb said. “A live round went down in hot casings. He jumped down to retrieve it to throw it overboard. I saw him do that, so I jumped down with him. We were able to find the live round, throw it off the side of the ship. For some reason the fuse ignited about, I would say, 150 feet away from the ship, and you could hear some shrapnel hit the ship. We were glad we found it right away, otherwise it would have exploded aboard.”

But it wasn’t all mishaps, thankfully for one fellow shipmate, who, while launching a torpedo from a hotdog (a wooden rack), lost his balance and fell overboard into the ocean.

“I saw him go over, and I was very lucky,” Herb said. “I hollered, ‘Man overboard!’ and threw the life ring within grabbing distance of him. He was able to grab it. Our ship captain was very alert. I called to him, he put the ship to a fast turn and we had the man back aboard within two-and-a-half minutes.

“Afterward I thought, 'Give that guy that went overboard quite a few shots of whiskey.' ” Herb chuckled. “He didn’t give me any.”

These close calls weren’t the only storms the Luchts and others on the F.M. Robinson weathered.

During their service, they encountered three hurricanes. Being on a small ship made the situation even more intense.

“It was just like a cork,” Robert said. “It was kind of scary. We’d ride over one wave and just cut into another one. Sometimes there’d be 10 or 12 feet of water on the deck of the ship.”

For 50- or 51-degree rolls, the ship could right itself, and more than that it’s easily capsized, he said. It was leaning under 50 degrees.

“She was laying over there pretty good,” Fred said. “Kind of scary.”

They were locked down below deck.

“If the ship tipped over, you were locked in,” Robert said. Luckily, somehow the ship made it and its crew survived the hurricane.

Despite the few moments of turbulence and excitement, Herb said their time on the ship was “just a normal cruise,” and he's proud of those that serve harder duties.

Having his family on-deck made the whole group feel tighter knit, he added.

“It kind of made us a little closer with everybody,” Herb said. “You watch out for one another pretty close, you know. It worked for us pretty nice.”

All in all, both Fred and Herb served for four years. Robert served just shy of four years, as he was a minor when he enlisted.

After their service, Fred, Herb and Robert each made his way back to Wisconsin, where Herb and Robert ran a trucking company and worked in construction and Fred worked making cement blocks and digging wells for irrigation. They each married, started families of their own and reflect fondly on their days in the Navy.

“It was a good experience,” Herb said. “The discipline that the military has — that’s good for a lot of these young guys, just for the respect that they have for authority. You do it for the country and for the people, no matter where it takes you.”

The Luchts, ever inseparable, are alive and remain within about 10 miles of one another. Herb and Robert talk every day.

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